It’s ten days now since my wife took down the Christmas tree and put the Christmas cards away. The winter feels darker and stronger without them. Only a string of sparkling lights, moved from tree to hearth, still holds the gloom of the dark too soon days at bay.
This year, in the relative isolation of lockdown, the Christmas cards were especially welcome. Each post that brought a card also brought a smile. It seemed to me that, this year in particular, the cards felt like the nudge a Labrador gives with its nose to let you know we’re both still here and everything is OK.
Like many men, I am terrible at keeping in touch. That Christmas cards go out or come in is entirely down to the efforts of my wife. She keeps the lists of names and addresses, knows what the last posting dates are and remembers which cards have been sent to whom. I bask in her reflected glory and think myself heroic for buying one card for her, one I don’t even have to post.
I’m told that the popularity of Christmas cards is falling, that they are being replaced by various forms of digital contact. I think that’s a shame. Christmas cards show effort and consideration. They are an act of remembrance and a confirmation of community in a way that pressing send on a digital message can’t match. I admire all those women who keep the tradition alive because they recognise the value of a card falling onto someone’s mat in the darkness of winter.
I’m reaching the age now where many of the people on the list my wife maintains are getting on a bit. Writing to them once a year is an act of hopefulness: hoping that they haven’t moved, that they haven’t divorced, that they haven’t died. Sometimes that hope is misplaced and the Christmas cards end up delivering a different message than the one intended.
There’s a poem in Wendy Cope’s excellent ‘Anecdotal Evidence’ collection that captures this perfectly. I’ve posted it below.
‘Christmas Cards’ by Wendy Cope
Cards to the very old go out like doves who will bring back news of one kind or another. It may be a sign of life - a few sentences in a shaky hand, I hope that you are well. It may be a letter from a friend or relative who found my address on the back: I am very sorry to tell you… This year two cards, both to widowers, came winging back with labels: Addressee gone away. I open my Christmas list, find their names and type d 2016. I could remove them but that would leave no trace of them and I’m not quite ready for them to disappear.